The Vanity Trap

Posted in Audio by - August 17, 2020
The Vanity Trap

Released August 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Myrna Kendal was once one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, and she now spends her time on chat shows reminiscing about everything with the exception of the unfinished film that would mark the end of her acting career. When the TARDIS arrives at one particular chat show in Stuart Manning’s ‘The Vanity Trap,’ however, the Doctor and Peri cause Myrna to recall those long-held memories and to set in motion a plot that brings together her past with their futures.

The development of the relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri is arguably Big Finish’s greatest success with the classic era of Doctor Who, continuing the softening of this initially-brusque incarnation of the Time Lord that was hinted at on screen while truly highlighting just how independent and intelligent this companion genuinely is. Indeed, the two are much more alike than either would admit, and it’s this very similarity with their willingness to voice personal beliefs that here leads to inadvertent problems as the duo returns to the 1970s and the site of Myrna’s repressed memories. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant continue to excel both together and separately, and the powerful interpersonal drama that rears its head here is a fantastic reminder of the tumultuous journey these two amazingly well-rounded characters have endured both together and apart that easily carries this narrative while setting in motion more potential plotlines for future stories to explore.

The mysterious plot centred around seeming bad luck and the fluidity of time itself is a suitably engaging one filled with red herrings, twists, vivid imagery, and Sarah Douglas likewise gives a powerful performance to capture the pride and ego of a star as well as the openness and heart that lay hidden beneath Myrna’s gruff surface. However, while the exploration of the reality and breakdown of both Myrna’s internal and external aspects proves to be another highlight of this release that receives a strong payoff, the former actress’s extreme self-centredness and narcissism make her a tough character to fully invest in despite the inevitable softening that she, too, undergoes during the course of this adventure. Her interactions and relationships with those around her are simply too one-dimensional and domineering for far too long, and the failure to further use this character in the present to better put into context what occurred so many years before is an awkward and glaring missed opportunity to truly hammer home the character development on display.

‘The Vanity Trap’ doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights it aspires to reach, but its toying with time and the preconceptions of time and of self absolutely create and maintain a high level of intrigue throughout that the Hollywood setting and tropes only further heighten. It’s quite clear that there is a more emotionally resonant story sitting beneath the surface that more time with an introspective Myrna in both time periods could have delivered, and in this sense the story mirrors its leading guest for better or for worse. Still, the strong performances and direction combine with a rich and glitzy soundscape to deliver a unique experience that is sure to entertain for its duration, and although the individual stories of this set have yet to reach the highs that the Sixth Doctor regularly enjoys in the monthly range, ‘The Vanity Trap’ brings the relationship between the Doctor and Peri to the forefront and injects a genuine energy into affairs that hint at what this format can yet offer.

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